Burning of The Parliament Buildings in Montreal - Damages


The St. Anne's Market building was completely devastated. The fire consumed the parliament's two libraries, parts of the archives of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, as well as more recent public documents. Over 23,000 volumes, forming the collections of the two parliamentary libraries, were lost. Only about 200 books, along with the portrait of Queen Victoria, were saved, thanks to James Curran. Four people, Colonel Wiley, a Scotsman named McGillivray, an employee of the parliament, and the uncle of Todd, who was responsible for the libraries, and Sandford Fleming, who later became a renowned engineer, saved the portrait of Queen Victoria hanging in the hall leading to the lower house. The canvas of the painting without the frame was transported to the Donegana Hotel. The market buildings and all it contained were insured for £12,000; the insurers refused to pay because of the criminal origin of the fire.

The two libraries and the public archives had been kept in the Parliament buildings since 1845. At the beginning of the session of 1849, the library of the Legislative Assembly counted more than 14,000 volumes and that of the Legislative Council more than 8,000. The collections were those of the libraries of the old provincial parliaments of Lower Canada and Upper Canada, which were merged into a single parliament through the Act of Union in 1840. The parliament house of the province of Upper Canada, founded in 1791 and seated in York, had been burned down by the American army during the War of 1812. The parliament remained itinerant between 1814 and 1829, and a permanent building did not re-open before 1832. Consequently, its libraries were not considerable and only provided a few hundreds of books to the new united legislature. Most of the books came from the Parliament of Lower Canada's libraries, particularly that of the Legislative Assembly, which comprised many thousands of books and was opened to the public in 1825. The losses were estimated at over $400,000 CAD.

Looking to rebuild the parliamentary library, the government sent bibliographer Georges-Barthélemi Faribault to Europe, where he spent £4,400 purchasing volumes in Paris and London. About two years after its partial reconstruction, the library of the Parliament of United Canada was lost again to a fire, on February 1, 1854. This time, the flames destroyed half the 17,000 volumes of the library, which had been in the new Parliament Buildings of Quebec City since 1853.

The parliamentary agenda was obviously affected by the events of April 25. The day after the fire, a special meeting of the members of the Legislative Assembly was convened to meet at 10:00 am in the hall of the Bonsecours Market, under the protection of British soldiers. On that day, the MPPs accomplished nothing other than appointing a committee responsible to report on the bills that were destroyed. Their report was presented to the House a week later on May 2. Lafontaine was not present that morning, because he assisted to the wedding of lawyer Amable Berthelot, his associate in law, who was marrying the adoptive daughter of judge Elzéar Bédard. The Legislative Assembly kept meeting at Bonsecours Market until May 7, after which date the parliament was convened in a building owned by Moses Judas Hayes on Place Dalhousie.

The Legislative Council's first meeting after the fire was held in the sacristy of the Trinity Church on April 30.

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